…my first short story collection! (Art by Arthur Hugot)
More details as the release date gets closer.
I’m Ken Hughes, author of Shadowed and the upcoming The High Road. Since the first book deals with enhanced senses and the second with flying, I’ve always been a writer fascinated with the question: “How many ways can magic and the paranormal add to a story?” Thanks for agreeing to help me here explore it, Maurice. So let’s start at the beginning: how did you know you wanted the kind of magic you use in your writing?
How I use magic changes with each story and what I’m trying to do with it. With The Knights of Breton Court trilogy, since I was essentially re-telling the Arthurian saga, the roadmap was laid out for me. With the story being told through the lives of homeless teens, my approach for it was that magic would stand in as a metaphor for homelessness: both are all around us if we know what to look for.
Magic can open a whole set of doors (and pitfalls) in the plot of a story, with new opportunities for characters. How has your concept of magic meshed with your plots?
Yes, magic can be a crutch, a built in Deus ex machina in case one writes themselves into a corner. For me it’s like any other part of world-building. I work out as much f it as possible in advance so that I know the “rules” I need to play within. I knew going in, for example, I was going to use my love of the idea of ley lines as mystical boundaries dividing up the city. That element has popped up in several of my stories.
Pick a character in your stories. Of all the ways they could use their magic, what’s their approach for choosing what to do with it, how to go about it, and what are the challenges or limits that puts them in conflict with?
Merle, my “magical redneck,” was a fan favorite, not the least because of his on-going arguments with his squirrel companion. Magic was a tool that he wasn’t always in control of. In a lot of ways, he’s a relic ready to be put out to pasture, a magic user in the age of reason, science, and technology. So his is a constant call to look to the old ways, to look back on the stories and rituals which have shaped people in order to find their way forward.
When magic touches your characters’ lives, how does it tend to change their lives or their viewpoint?
When one confronts magic, it’s like that scientist/skeptic in a horror story when confronted with a demon of some sort. They have lived within their worldview only to have that paradigm shattered. Then it’s a scramble for survival while they piece together a new or broader way of looking at life.
What authors, myths, or other sources does your view of magic admire or draw from? Is there anything you think one source hasn’t done justice to?
So I recently had to write an essay where I had to create a mythological history of Kurt Vonnegut. I re-imagined him as a practitioner of chaos magic. It gave me an excuse to study the work of comic book writer, Grant Morrison, and his views/practice of it.
Sometimes it just clicks. Tell me about your favorite scene or moment where your brand of magic brought the story up to a new level.
In The Knights of Breton Court, the main character, King, is the classic reluctant hero. There comes a point where the forces pulling at his life has him going up against the effects of the “Dragon’s breath.” Like the skeptic earlier, he could continue in a state of denial and end up dead, or he could realize this ish just got real and level up.
It’s funny how we rarely think of the “monsters” as magical. I wrote the Green Knight as an elemental. He was a magical creature existing and making a (brutal) life for himself in the real world. He as my favorite character to write.
Looking ahead for your writing: what’s your biggest hope for something you want to capture for writing about magic that you haven’t done yet?
The current novel I’m writing will be all about finding magic as a way to cope with life. It follows a gamer who lives in a world without magic, but loves the idea of the wizard character he has created for himself. So on one level it’s about a guy LARP-ing through life, on another it’s about finding ways to know yourself, discover who you are and to create your own reality.
About yourself now: what form of magic would you most like to have, and what would you use it for?
I had a discussion with my aunt who is a practicing obeah woman in Jamaica. She told me that because of my faith—I’ve been a Christian for decades—that I have a powerful obeah spirt. With that in mind, I think any faith, any system of belief, is t make us better people and be used as instruments of healing and making the world a better place.
On the other hand, I was raised on comic books and magic can also equal super powers, from Dr. Strange to Dr. Fate. So there’s a good chance I’d slip on a pair of tights and go fight crime.
What’s the most important thing you want to convey to your readers when you write about magic?
I get asked a lot about how I can be a Christian and write about magic the way I do. I have never seen these as incompatible bedfellows. We live in a world full of mystery. My worldview is already bent toward seeing the world as a spiritual place, that there is more to life than what we see and that there are forces all around us that can be drawn upon.
Couple of articles which talk about my novel series, the Knights of Breton Court:
It’s been a pretty quiet year for me story-wise, so it’s nice to see it ending on such a high note of releases. I have a couple of new projects out, both of which help raise funds and attention for good causes.
The first is the Naughty or Nice: A Holiday Anthology edited by Jennifer Brozek. “With a little bit of nice, a sprinkle of dark, a handful of sexy, and a whole lot of naughty, this adult-oriented anthology is filled with blushes, laughs, and gasps. This is not your average holiday reading. From the story behind Marley’s fate, to a little elf who makes the perfect “toy” to the holiday rituals that keep the world going, Naughty or Nice: A Holiday Anthology, keeps the pages turning.”
Besides getting to appear beside such luminaries as Jody Lynn Nye, Lucy Snyder, and Kevin J. Anderson, my story “The Kwanzaa Kid” is one of my personal favorites.
The first two months of proceeds goes to raise money for cystic fibrosis.
The second project is Mythic Indy edited by Corey Michael Dalton. “The anthology, whose proceeds support Second Story, features stories about aliens in the Indianapolis Zoo, cannibals in Tomlinson Hall, and the little-known tale of the Glendale penguins…With your purchase, you support the work being done by our tutors, our volunteers, and, of course, our students. Every year, Second Story works with students in Indianapolis schools to teach them the power of writing, and the magic that can happen on the page. We believe writing is fun, and writing is weird, and writing is powerful.”
Some are frightening. Some are moving. Each is written by one of Indiana’s top contemporaries writers, including:
Don’t believe me that this one’s special? You can go read the article written on the project in the Indianapolis Star.
Feel free to spread the word.
P.S. There’s a new interview with me over on the Fantasy Scroll Mag. Check it out here.
I have a story up in the latest issue of Apex Magazine. ”Super Duper Fly” was written for the upcoming anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli. Here was the pitch: Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology inspired by the works of writers and filmmakers like Joss Whedon who have played with long-standing tropes to create something fresh and new. Each story in this anthology will reflect your unique, creative examination of a specific trope that is prevalent in science fiction, horror, and fantasy. ”Super Duper Fly” takes on the trope of The Magical Negro and is quietly a sequel to my story “The Cracker Trap,” which was about “the black guy who dies first in a horror movie”.
Well, the powers that be decided to publish the story as a sneak preview for the anthology. You can read it here.
You can also read an interview of me by the head power-that-be of Apex Magazine, Jason Sizemore, here.
Here’s my author’s note which explains the Magical Negro trope for the uninitiated:
THE MAGICAL NEGRO—It’s easy to believe that this trope came from a good place or at least rose out of benign neglect. After all, a white writer is “writing what they know” or appealing to their target demographic, which is typically people like them, but they want a more diverse world. So the easy solution is to put an “other” at a critical place in their hero’s journey to help them along. The Magical Negro is one such other (see also: Magical Native American, Magical Asian, etc). One sees The Magical Negro in such movies as Ghost, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Family Man, and Bruce Almighty. Or in an unusual amount of Stephen King novels/movie adaptations such as The Stand, The Talisman (written with Peter Straub), The Shining, and the ultimate ode to The Magical Negro, The Green Mile.
The Magical Negro has several hallmarks. They have no history. They exist outside of any community of their own. Much like, if not fulfilling the role of, a fairy godmother, they arrive from somewhere that’s vague and otherworldly and returns in some manner. At their introduction, The Magical Negro has either a threatening or benign aspect: 1) appearing with an initial sense of danger, such as a Big Black Man, drug dealer, thief, or prisoner, in which case they must be quickly identified as helping and compassionate; or 2) showing up in some powerless capacity, like a janitor, homeless, or a musician, so that the hero can be approached or approach them without risk (or even demonstrate compassion by interacting with them). It doesn’t matter how great their wisdom or the extent of their magical powers, The Magical Negro’s sole purpose is to selflessly use their powers to help the white hero in their journey. Depicted as an agent of change/the one who makes amazing things happen, their role is meant to be an exalted position, though their role boils down to fitting a black person into a white person’s narrative.
Sometimes I’m grateful just to see a reflection of me included in the story. Other times I don’t think that my story is being respected and I get all stabby.
(Bonus story: if you haven’t read my story “Pimp My Airship”, which appeared in Apex Magazine #2, you can go read it here!)
When they unearthed the mysterious shard, a sense of excitement rippled through the archaeological camp. They were onto something staggering. Professor Leopold Watson arrived first and examined the shard with reverent care. Kilwa Kivinje had disappeared into antiquity with no clues as to its whereabouts. Despite his colleagues’ skepticism, he was certain that the forgotten city was here—not far from the Olduvai Gorge—and this shard was the first evidence he’d seen that he was on the right track. Though anxious to send a report to the Associated Press, he opted to hold off until they knew what they were dealing with.
Leopold removed his broad-rimmed hat long enough to wipe the sweat from his scalp then tucked his few gray tufts of hair back under its protection. Small-framed glasses fixed to the bridge of his nose. Leopold possessed a thin face with weary creases radiating from his deep-recessed eyes. Miskatonic University, a small—though storied—university, couldn’t finance the expedition without the aid of the Nathaniel Derby Pickman Foundation. Dealing with the Foundation meant suffering their representative, Stanley McKreager. His crooked smile, as if he never quite got the hang of it, greeted the slow approach of his colleague.
You can find the ebook edition in their ebookstore. If you click-through to the ebook page, you can see what else is in this month’s issue alongside my story. Need some convincing?:
This month’s issue is (or will be shortly) also available on Amazon, BN, Kobo, and Weightless Books. Links to the third-party seller editions can be found on the following page, if you click on the Purchase/Subscribe button.
By the way, in case you missed it, here’s my live chat on Dive into Worldbuilding. Check it out if you’re interested in me going on about World Building.
And here’s the cover for the upcoming anthology, Cadence In Decay. It reprints my story “Communication Breakdown” (which first appeared in Dark Discoveries Magazine. Here’s a review of the issue, where my tale was called a “a cool modern-tech-horror tale”).
CADENCE IN DECAY, edited by Ty Schwamberger
Contributors include (in no particular order):
Weston Ochse, Michael West, Adam P. Lewis, Ramsey Campbell, Mike Oliveri, Chad Lutzke, Philip C. Perron, Skip Novak, Gary Braunbeck, Gabriel M. Cole, James A. Moore, Keith Minnion, Maurice Broaddus, Ian R. Faulkner, David Owain Hughes, Taylor Grant, Thomas Erb, Jeff Strand & Tim Waggoner.
Cover art by David Anthony Magitis.
The anthology will be released in TPB and eBook editions in 2016 by Ravenswood Publishing.
After a long radio silence on my end, 2016 is shaping up to be a good year. Got a lot of things brewing that I’ll be telling you about as soon as I can.
Still in the mood for something scary? Halloween is coming up so we need to get costumes ready for the annual Broaddus family Christmas Party (we take costuming seriously in the Broaddus household). For Throwback Thursday, I give you a shot from our year 2000 party.
Hip hop has grown up. With over 30 years to its history, the music has transformed the very industry that disdained it, gone mainstream, impacts fashion and culture, and spawned nostalgia stations. Now comes a band biopic of one of its seminal groups, N.W.A.
In the late 80s the country was in the throes of a drug epidemic, as crack cocaine had hit the streets, tearing up communities and devastating lives. It was beset by Reagan era policies which many felt were an assault on the poor. At the time, the hip hop landscape was dominated by the East Coast rappers all vying for radio air play while trying to “legitimize” rap music: Run-D.M.C., Big Daddy Kane, Fat Boys, L.L. Cool J, Whodini, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, etc. The music was safe and radio friendly. Then along came an iconoclastic group breaking all the rules. Even their name, N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitude) was a jab in the eye to the system. When N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton dropped, they shifted the axis to the West Coast scene. They created a new subgenre to the music, “gangsta rap” (though the members apparently preferred to it call “reality rap”), cussing on record, talking about their lives, all the while just looking to become hood famous.
In 1988, their most notorious song, “F— tha Police” became the controversial anthem of the streets. It described the treatment many young black men faced, going through life as suspects; automatically assumed or profiled to be drug dealers and gang bangers (read: dangerous). It decried police brutality and nearly 30 years later, as abuse/shootings by law enforcement are every day headlines, seems just as relevant. It spoke to a world of black youth unreported upon. This was why Public Enemy’s Chuck D once called gangsta rap “the CNN of the streets.”
[The initials FTP became doubly important, when Public Enemy followed up their nation conscious political album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” with the single “Fight the Power” (from the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s controversial 1989 film on race relations, Do the Right Thing). Between those two groups, rap became a generation’s rage-filled protest music.]
Against a backdrop of gang violence, a rampant drug epidemic, the poor under siege, and simmering anger and discontent culminating in the 1992 riots, is the story of N.W.A.
“We’re always going to be brothers.” –Eazy-E
Directed by F. Gary Gray, who got his start directing some of Ice Cube’s early videos and then Cube’s movie Friday, the plot is a familiar one to those who have seen any VH-1 Behind the Music special or biopic about the rise and fall of a band. At least on the surface. What sets Straight Outta Compton apart is its personal observations; its tender, quiet moments which reveals the humanity of its players.
At the center of the group are three figures: O’Shea Jackson a.k.a. Ice Cube (played by Ice Cube’s real life son, O’Shea Jr.), the 19 year old rapper and lyricist; Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), DJ and master of beats who has a vision for what the music could become [for folks wondering about their significance, think of this in terms of Beatles With Attitude with these two as the Paul McCartney and John Lennon of the group]; and neighborhood drug dealer, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) whom Dre approaches because of his business mind to fund their endeavor. MC Ren (Leverage’s Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.)—who steals as many scenes as he can with his wry commentary—round out the group. The relationship between the members provides the emotional core of the movie and their onscreen chemistry is apparent and feels natural. There’s an early scene of Eazy-E’s comical attempts at rhyming, mocked by his future bandmates, until Dre coaxes a good performance out of him. The song would later become “Boyz N the Hood” (which John Singleton took as the title of the movie that was Ice Cube’s acting debut).
N.W.A.’s swagger and braggadocio is played as more performance to survive on the streets, market themselves, and survive in the business. The movie paints Cube and Dre as artists just about perfecting their craft and Eazy as the engine and means to power their dreams. Eazy-E eventually forms Ruthless Records, though his business acumen eventually becomes a two-edged sword. While it’s simple to paint Eazy-E as a villain, Mitchell’s portrayal reveals a complex character. The portrait of a young man who values his friends, who lets money blind him, and shares a weird father/son dynamic with his mentor/manager, Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti).
While the specter of the caricature of the devious Jewish manager who takes advantage of young black musicians almost hovers in the background (though anti-Semitism takes center stage when Ice Cube blasts him on the track “No Vaseline”), the movie fleshes out the character and doesn’t lean on stereotypes. The arc of Eazy with Heller provides additional emotional underpinnings to the movie. And Heller as manipulative villain seems almost counterbalanced by the presence of R. Marcos Taylor who chews up scenery as Marion “Suge” Knight. From former body guard to Bobby Brown, he helps Dre form Death Row Records and ends up ruling it like a kingpin. Suge becomes the lightning rod for the violence surrounding the group; with most of the ugly behavior given to him, he becomes the only unabashed monster in the movie.
However, money and rights issues eventually divide the group. Ice Cube leaves first, going solo with a series of hit albums and a burgeoning movie career. Then Dr. Dre goes on to form Death Row Records, later ushering in a new era of hip hop superstars from Snoop Dogg and Tupac to Eminem (when he formed Aftermath Entertainment).
So much of N.W.A.’s story was played out in the news and their public beefs played out on wax. They became the poster children for political pundits who sought to score points by scaring their suburban constituency with the specter of young black hoods brainwashing their kids.
With Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, among the producers, Straight Outta Compton crafts sympathetic characterizations, smoothing out the rougher edges of the characters to focus on making a crowd pleasing movie. Thus, no attention is paid to Dr. Dre’s history of abuse towards women nor does it address the misogyny and homophobia rampant in the group’s lyrics. No women become fully formed characters. Dre’s mom looms large, but is forgotten, as is his baby momma. Eazy-E’s wife is woefully underwritten. Largely women exist as little more than groupie/trophies, with one encounter seeming to be a long set up for a “Bye Felicia” callback to Friday.
“I’m expressing with my full capabilities/And now I’m living in correctional facilities
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this/I get straight, meditate like a Buddhist” –N.W.A. “Express Yourself”
N.W.A.’s lyrics gave voice to a generation’s frustration, demonstrating the power of voice. They poured their passion and anger into their work which eventuated in a form of personal expression. The most important thing an artist brings to their art is their voice, how they come at the world. It’s an artist’s job to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to push boundaries. They expose themselves, their lives, their reality, their dreams, their pain; revealing or speaking from their woundedness. There’s a reason why so much of the Bible is made up of storytelling and poetry.
Artists are reporters covering the human condition, who share their observations. When one hears the story of another human being—their heartbreak, their pain, their love, their sorrow, their loss—they know they’re not alone. That they are human and belong to a community of humans. We just need to be better listeners.
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge…” –N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton”
Straight Outta Compton, much like N.W.A.’s music, serves as political commentary. It’s a commentary on the American Dream and how it looks and is lived out by those the dream forgot. In a powerful scene that serves as the inspiration for “F— tha Police,” the police have the group members on the ground on the suspicion of … being black males in public. Heller comes out and lashes out at the police in a way that no member of the group could as a matter of survival. In one moment, the movie shows their powerlessness and Heller’s privilege.
Even at a 147 minute running time, F. Gary Gray gives Straight Outta Compton the epic treatment while moving it along at a brisk pace. An intriguing character study, with standout performances, most notably by Mitchell, especially after Eazy-E’s diagnosis with AIDs.
Straight Outta Compton takes us back to those early days of hip hop with music that still wouldn’t get airplay today (as the nostalgia hip hop stations still carefully tip toe around gangsta tracks). With the recording sessions and concert performances providing opportunities for audience sing-a-longs, this is very much a movie for fans of N.W.A. and hip hop, reminding us of the soundtrack of our youth.
Gen Con is the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world! Taking place in Indianapolis from July 30 – August 2, 2015, last year, Gen Con reached all-new attendance records with a weekend turnstile attendance of 184,699 and unique attendance of 56,614.
The Gen Con Writer’s Symposium is the best kept secret in genre. Celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2014, the Symposium offers over 140 hours of programming and features more than 75 authors including: 2015 Author Guest of Honor Terry Brooks, Special Guest Chuck Wendig, Bill Willingham, Kameron Hurley, Patrick Rothfuss, Cat Rambo, and more!
If you want to come check me out, I’ll be participating on the following panels:
11:00 am Craft: Where to Start the Story
3:00 pm Characters: Where to Start When Creating Characters
2:00 pm Life: Breaking Writer’s Block
12:00 pm Signing in Exhibit Hall
3:00 pm Craft: Magic in the Modern World
A special “yay” for those folks who “don’t see color.” We don’t have that luxury. Here is a summary of the last two weeks’ worth of discussion in the Broaddus household:
#ConfederateFlagSymbolOfHate #BlackLivesMatter #BiracialNotTransracial #Black
So when I see friends or family waving around/defending the Confederate flag, I want them to see the faces of those they’re hurting.
*Special thanks to Michelle Pendergrass for the photo. I love how she captured my youngest son’s “I just can’t” face.